By Orville Williams
Following recent criticisms by the country’s Chief Health Inspector, the Health Minister has sought to provide clarity and reassure of his support.
Chief Health Inspector, Sharon Martin, disclosed on Monday, that prior to the re-opening of certain beauty service business places the same day (barbershops, beauty salons and nail salons), she was not consulted by the relevant authorities. Martin also said she did not receive sufficient transportation resources to conduct the necessary inspections on the weekend before.
Minister of Health, Molwyn Joseph, yesterday sought to clarify the situation saying, “the impression that is being given out there, that there is some kind of conflict between myself and the Chief Health Inspector, is absolutely false.”
Joseph explained that while there might not have been any direct communication with Martin ahead of the re-opening in question, there was certainly contact with senior personnel from her department and she was definitely a part of the initial consultation process.
“In so far as consultation is concerned, the Chief Health Inspector was part of the planning process, when Cabinet established the Covid taskforce, that was established earlier. The fact of the matter is, there is where the planning took place and it was the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) who chaired those meetings and will update me from time to time. Her updates are what I share with Cabinet for [us] to make the policies.
“Specifically with the Chief Health Inspector and the opening-up of the barbershops and beauty salons, what happened was, last Wednesday, the Cabinet again looked at the number of businesses that were under lockdown…and hence came the time when we felt that the barbershops [etc] deserved the opportunity to make a living, to open up their business and that was the decision made by the Cabinet,” he explained.
Regarding the transportation issue, Joseph suggested that Martin be more innovative and used an example of other Ministry personnel, who – faced with similar challenges – got significant work done. He also clarified that, wherever personal resources may be expended, the necessary reimbursements would be done.
The Health Minister clarified another situation surrounding Martin, who came under scrutiny some time ago from Prime Minister Gaston Browne, regarding her public presence. In April, Browne said while the country was dealing with the crisis of the pandemic, Martin was “missing in action”.
The Chief Health Inspector defended herself, citing extensive working hours. However, the exchange prompted many to question her absence from Covid-19-related media briefings, with Martin again responding that she could not be present if she was never invited.
Joseph explained that in the early stages, the main persons involved in addressing the pandemic were the CMO and the epidemiologists and added that as the outbreak progressed, additional personnel joined them at the forefront where necessary.
While he justified her omission from those activities, Joseph said now is the appropriate time for Martin to be visible. “Ms Martin’s involvement comes now, because when you close businesses and you open them, her department has to undertake the work of inspecting them.
“This is her time now, with all the activities, she can call her own press conference[s], she can ask that I assist her in setting it up. Ms Martin is now on the stage because of the stage of the fight against Covid and there is nobody preventing her from doing it,” Joseph stated.
The Minister also implored Martin to be more assertive in matters concerning her portfolio.
“I’m sure that she’s strong in many other ways, but there’s something that she said that concerns me and that is the impression that she has to be always called. When you’re a leader, there’s such a thing called initiative and even if she felt that she was not consulted, like the other senior officers that walk into my office from time to time, [she could voice her concern]. It is not a perfect world; all the other senior officers would do that.
“This is not being condescending; of all the senior officers, I have less interaction with her than others…sometimes in an environment and you have a vision to move a department forward, it requires some initiative to make things happen,” he said.
In reiterating his support for the Chief Health Inspector, Joseph added that he would be increasing his efforts to engage and communicate with her.
“I respect her, I think that she has tremendous competence based on her training, but unlike most of the other officers, she tends to be a bit reserved, which I understand. What I intend to do is to communicate, [to] make some more effort to engage the Chief Health Inspector, in order for her to – I believe – fulfill her obvious potential.
“I will say this, every effort will be made to assist [her] in getting her work done, including encouraging her to call press conferences [and] go on radio programmes,” he declared.
The Chief Health Inspector and the Central Board of Health by extension, are now facing the strenuous task of inspecting and certifying businesses for operation during this time, so any assistance to their efforts will surely be helpful.